How do you sit down to write about a country? How do you effectively summarise and convey all the nuances of a land so complex, so multi-faceted, so intricately diverse in climate, in weather, in terrain, in people?
Firstly, why Ecuador? What was it that initially drew me to this equatorial land of glittering coastline and humid jungle? How did I end up living for a year in the countries capital?
The answer is love. How cliché. I first chanced upon this country five years ago, when a boy with blue eyes enchanted me into following him across the world. We traveled from Argentina up to Panama, in the space of two years. Hitchhiking, camping and painting our way across South America, we ended up staying in Ecuador for the longest out of every country, drawn in by the warmth and hospitality of the people, the ease of the Spanish dialect, warm waves, blue skies, colonies of frigate birds and spicy encebollados on the beach. After 6 months we moved on to Colombia, but I vowed to return.
And return I did, 5 years later.
I had changed and grown, survived cancer and graduated from university. In the space of half a decade, I’d evolved into a woman, stronger and more secure in my self. Back home in South Africa, I found myself hungry for change, craving an adventure or experience where I’d be pushed physically, challenged mentally and above all, anonymous. I suppose that’s how I found myself on a one-way flight to Ecuador and from there on an overnight bus from the capital city Quito, to Yasuni, the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. What started out as a two-week volunteering trip turned into two months of living with an Indigenous Kichwa community, teaching English, washing in the river each morning, cooking dinner beneath starry skies and falling asleep to the incessant roar of the Amazon jungle.
Oh, and also a boy. With coal black hair and kind eyes that made me feel seen for the first time in a really long time. I fell in love with someone from a world so drastically different from everything I had ever known. We didn’t share a mother tongue but we found love and connection in this primitive paradise, far from consumerism, money and stress, all the things that so often divide people.
I lived for two months with him, in his community, until life and the eventual need for fresh linen and hot water drew me back to the world.
I couldn’t stay away though.
Cut to 4 months later and I had found work in the cities capital, teaching English and journalism to high school kids at a private school. Living with him together in an apartment. Spending our weekends buying fresh fruits and veggies at the local market, lying in the park or going on spontaneous road trips in our little 4 x 4 to find gushing waterfalls or ancient turquoise crater lakes.
Living here has also brought with it, indubitably, an array of challenges. The language barrier for one, for even though my Spanish is substantial, there are myriad moments and interactions when one’s limited capacity to communicate can be frustrating. The bureaucracy, the endless paperwork, the way people drive, those that see your race and assume you’re made of money. Oh and machismo, that shit is very well and alive here. There are a lot of factors about living here that have at times overwhelmed and frustrated me and made me ache for the comfort of life back home.
But, when racking my brain to think of all the things that frustrate me, all that really comes to mind are all the things I love about this tiny Latin American country. The deep blue hues of the Pacific ocean, the snow-capped volcanoes glittering in the morning sunlight, the lush forests, rampant jungles, marketplaces, wild cocoa fruits, ripe coconuts and the wrinkled faces of the Andean Kichwa, with their traditional ponchos, wide-brimmed hats, and thick plaits. The rawness of the countryside, the rolling hills, towering trees, muddy rivers, happy children and endless diversity.
I love you Ecuador.
Thank you for taking me in, giving me work, love and a home for a year. Thank you for teaching me how to stay in one place for longer than a few months. Thank you for the lessons on ‘how to adult 101’ and have responsibilities and show up and be on time and prove that I am capable of having a 9- 5, as challenging as it was. I’ll miss you every day. I’ll miss your capricious weather, the contagious smiles of the young, the possibility of adventure at every turn, the warmth of this land and all it represents. Even the old gas truck with its annoyingly persistent song, rattling through the city streets at 7am.
Ecuador: you are freedom and possibility, you are Mother Earth in her purest form.